Scotland: Labour thrown into a crisis

Scottish Labour leader, Johann Lamont, has thrown the party into a crisis following her recent speech that called for an end to the “something for nothing culture” in Scotland.

In Lamont’s target sights were free tuition for university students living in Scotland, free prescriptions, the council tax freeze, free personal care for the elderly and free travel for pensioners. In other words almost every relatively progressive policy that has been introduced by the Scottish parliament, many of them by the SNP.

According to Lamont, universally available benefits have to end and a return to means testing, in these times of austerity, is vital to ensure the undeserving “don’t get what they don’t need”. Her announcement to establish what has been dubbed a “cuts commission” to look into unpicking these hugely popular policies is a desperate attempt to attack the SNP.

Lamont could have taken the SNP head on for their utter capitulation to the Con-Dem austerity agenda. Salmond and Swinney have passed on almost £4 billion in cuts to the people of Scotland in the last three years. Cuts to local government have cost more than 30,000 jobs. Scotland’s public sector workers have seen years of pay freezes under the SNP.

She could have demanded, as championed by the Socialist Party and the Scottish Anti-Cuts Coalition, a return of the billions stolen from working class communities to pay for the bailout of the bankers and big business.

Instead Labour’s leader has signalled her support for a vicious extension of the cuts agenda and the tearing up of those modest but important advances that still survive in Scotland. In doing so she could also sound the death of Labour in Scotland, particularly if these policies were to form the basis of Labour’s platform in the run up to the 2014 independence referendum.

This desperate embracing of right wing, anti working class policies, has already produced consternation and resignations from Scottish Labour. It has also allowed the SNP leadership to pose as defenders of progressive policies that “protect the poor and the working class”. Just days after his budget that deepened the cuts John Swinney described Lamont as “Osborne in a kilt” after he himself was rightly described as such by the PCS and other unions.

Not surprisingly, the Tories and a host of right wing commentators have enthusiastically welcomed this huge lurch to the right. Tory leaders in Scotland, Murdo Fraser and Ruth Davidson welcomed Lamont’s conversion to “their cause.” The Spectator magazine, a bastion of right wing ideology, were over the moon at Lamont’s declaration of war against the “something for nothing” culture.

This speech, alongside Scottish Labour’s “Faustian pact” with the devil in the form of the Con-Dems in the anti-independence Better Together campaign will undermine further Labour support in Scotland, in particular among the working class.

The crying need for a mass working class party that is prepared to fight the cuts, advocate public ownership, radical wealth redistribution and socialism has never been more important.

We would appeal to all those support these ideas to join with the Socialist Party Scotland. While building our party we have also been working consistently with anti-cuts campaigners, socialists and trade unionists to as part of the Scottish Anti-Cuts Coalition and the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.

Lamont’s speech underlines again the dead-end that Labour represents for those trade unions that are affiliated to the party. The need to break from Labour and help launch a new working class party that will oppose austerity tooth and nail, whether from the Con-Dem’s or their SNP and Labour helpers is now urgent.

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September 2012